NICOLE

1 in 5. That’s how many women, according to the CDC, are raped within their lifetime. 2 out of 2. That’s the statistic for my sister and I. The statistic provided by the CDC failed us. Humanity failed us.

Rape has no preference to race, religion, socioeconomic standing, or gender. Rape does not occur as a punishment for one’s mistakes or as a part of one’s story. Rape is unwarranted, unjustified, and sadly, often never reported. When my sister was raped, she never reported her attacker to the authorities out of fear, but she did tell me her story. She wanted me to know that these things do occur and she wanted me to be aware. Not to live in fear, but to simply be aware. And so I became much more aware. I was aware of the people that I surrounded myself with, and I was painfully aware that just because it happened to my sister, I was not magically immune from it happening to me. And it happened. It happened despite all my best efforts for it not to.

I always knew that I wanted to succeed in Corporate America. I graduated from a well-respected university where I studied Business Management. I knew that I wanted to take my well-earned degree and break barriers in an industry that was predominantly inhabited by men. I found early-on that inserting myself into a male-dominated industry came with daily challenges. Challenges that I was prepared to deal with, because I was determined to make a name for myself. Challenges that I was prepared to deal with, because I was passionate and knew I would be able to succeed. And so I hit the ground running.

I worked long hours, put work before relationships, and quickly saw progression in my career. The trade offs were worth it in my eyes. I had developed a strong network of individuals for whom I respected and admired. They were individuals that I trusted and felt comfortable with. Until they weren’t. On January 21, 2016, at a corporate training event, someone drugged and raped me. I was surrounded by “the right people” and it still happened. After going to the emergency room and following all legal protocol, I flew back home to attempt to resume a sense of normalcy. Normalcy was far from what I was greeted with. The individuals that I assumed would be my greatest allies within the workplace had turned their backs on me.

Rumors began to spread around the office like wildfire and it quickly became apparent that my allegations fell on deaf ears and dead hearts. Higher-ups, who I had always assumed would be there to support and guide me, quickly made it clear that what had happened to me could somehow tarnish the company’s reputation, and it would be best if I kept what happened to myself. My coworkers, who I considered to be friends, turned their backs on me, and to add insult to injury, someone who I had feelings for pretended not to know me anymore. The hand holding and slow dancing that took place between us had been thrown by the wayside, and all that remained between us were silent glances and unreturned messages. My presence in that office made everyone uncomfortable, so leaving became my only option. I had been through hell and all I wanted was to return to my career. The one thing that I had spent my adult life building was now becoming jeopardized solely due to the actions of one man. An unknown man’s violent actions had ruined everything that I worked so hard to build. But despite it all, I refused to allow his actions to break me.

My sister once told me that she came to the realization that she had two options; she could either let rape define her and tarnish her future or she could rise above it and become strong because of it. She chose the latter, and so did I. What he took from me can never be replaced, but I do have the opportunity to let my voice be heard. I do not want young women who are reading this to become fearful of Corporate America and the potential dangers that lurk within it. Instead, I want young women who are reading this to realize that rape can take place, but that potential should never keep you from breaking through that glass ceiling and chasing your dreams. In this industry, we must become aware that monsters often hide behind prestigious titles and designer suits. Despite these masked dangers, we are still capable of incredible things. Now that my story has been told, I request of you the following; please do not turn your back on someone who is brave enough to come forward with allegations of assault. And please, should you become a victim of sexual assault, know that there are others out there who are here to support you and guide you as you regain a sense of normalcy once again.